What’s great about humans is that we’re all unique, down to our DNA. While there’s a lot of discussion about diversity in the workplace, one aspect is often left behind: neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is something to be celebrated. Neurodivergent employees add a different perspective to your business with flair and creativity. Whether you’re unsure about neurodiversity or have avoided hiring those on the spectrum, this blog seeks to help you understand how they can be a huge asset to your business.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the idea that there is a spectrum of brain function and cognition. Things that are classed as neurodevelopmental disorders are simply differences, not deficits. The term neurodiversity was first used in the late 1990s by Autistic Sociologist Judy Singer. Put simply, people who are neurodivergent think, feel and operate differently from those who are neurotypical.
What is classed as neurodiversity?
It’s hard to map out every flavour of neurodiversity. It operates on what’s often described as a spectrum and each form has its own characteristics that vary between people. Conditions under the neurodiversity umbrella include the following:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Tourette Syndrome
Neurodivergent individuals shouldn’t be viewed as broken or in need of fixing. Neurodiversity is a natural part of the human condition. There is no one right way to think, learn or behave and we should support and celebrate these individuals.
Why is it important to welcome and embrace neurodiversity in your workforce?
It’s estimated over 15% of people in the UK have some form of neurodivergence – ignoring neurodivergent workers means discriminating against 1 in 7 people.
From a recruitment perspective, you’re dramatically limiting your talent pool by not accommodating those who operate in different ways than what’s ‘typical’. Not to mention that if somebody is turned down because of a neurodiverse condition, they may have a case for employment discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act.
What’s perhaps most important to note isn’t the legality of the situation, but rather that neurodivergence in the workplace is a good thing for all involved parties.
Neurodivergence: How it can manifest?
I was diagnosed with ADHD years ago, having gone the clinical route with a full assessment. We’ll get to how this affects how I work, but first, it’s worth stating that neurodivergent communities are split on whether a diagnosis is even necessary if medication isn’t needed.
Some people say they have ADHD or neurodiversity without ever having been diagnosed. Due to the limitations within the medical system to get assessed, self-diagnoses are common and should be treated the same way as those who’ve been professionally diagnosed.
If you meet a potential employee who’s un- or self-diagnosed, it’s still important to hear them out and accommodate to how they work best – just as you would with anybody who’s looking to join your team.
We’ve already explained that most forms of neurodivergence manifest differently with each person, but it may be helpful to hear how a real-world experience.
How does ADHD and anxiety impact how I operate?
I’m good with stress because I also have a comorbidity of high-functioning anxiety. I think that’s the only way I got my PhD while having ADHD: anxiety.
I need a little bit of pressure to be able to do things effectively – but not too much. Bamboo PR’s managing director Marco has nailed it perfectly.
I have the tendency to hyper-focus. It isn’t just focusing strongly on a single task but being able to do a week’s worth of work in an afternoon. It’s something that I can’t initiate myself, but I can tell when it’s coming on.
I’m also good at out-of-the-box thinking. I approach problems differently because parts of my brain have developed differently from other people, my first solution to a problem is typically not the same as everybody else’s, but it often works. I’m confident in being able to go into a room and fix things because of it.
The combination of out-of-the-box thinking and exceptional problem-solving often comes with a downside – having too many ideas for solving one problem. For someone with ADHD, it creates ADHD paralysis, where it’s hard to choose a single solution. ADHD paralysis is a constant flurry of overwhelming thoughts, making it practically impossible for me to progress on a task. While my short-term memory is all over the place, I often learn tasks quickly.
For example, with Monday.com, there are 15 different ways of doing tasks. Sometimes, I don’t know which one to pick. There are so many options, and they all make sense to me so I may need a little bit of guidance.
There is software which really helps me to be organised, like Sunsama, but that’s the cruel thing about ADHD: you can use software and try techniques and then simply forget about them.
ADHD and other disorders typically have some negatives, of course, but they help us to provide unique value to a company.
How does Bamboo accommodate neurodivergence?
From extensive, ahead-of-the-curve policies to a flexible working culture, Bamboo always puts its people first. To illustrate how Bamboo accommodates for neurodiversity, this is an example of my experience.
Physical activity is excellent for my brain – especially if I’m on the edge of or experiencing burnout. Each Thursday I take two hours to do something physical. It rejuvenates me. Knowing that that flexibility is there when I’m not having a good day and I can push my tasks to a more productive day is amazing. There’s an element of trust there.
I’m aware from the outside that it can look like I’m just being lazy one day but that’s not what it is. Having that trust means I’m not afraid to go to Marco and try to deal with something that’s out of my control.
Also, Marco doesn’t micromanage me, which I would find stressful, but he also doesn’t let me go off by myself where I would end up doing something on a complete tangent. It’s finding that sweet spot of line management and having flexibility that makes all the difference.
Discrimination against neurodivergence in the workplace
When I was trying to get hired before I joined Bamboo, I did a poll on a community group made up of neurodivergent people. I asked lots of questions about the hiring process, such as: When do you disclose your neurodiversity? Would you do it pre-interview, during the interview, post-interview, or after you’ve signed a contract?
Hardly anyone was willing to disclose beforehand. There’s a fear that they’re going to be treated negatively because the company likely won’t know a lot about it.
I then asked some hiring managers and HR directors and they said, completely off the record, they probably wouldn’t hire somebody with ADHD because they don’t know what to do with them.
ADHD is a recognised disability and, as such, technically you have legal requirements to make accommodations. This is the case with other types of neurodivergence too.
With an area that’s so ambiguous, you never know if you’re going to be opening yourself up to a lawsuit by opting to not hire somebody purely because they operate differently and you’re not sure how to accommodate their nuances.
If you do make the right accommodations for somebody – which are generally quite simple, though they’re very individualistic – you enable a different skillset in your company and productivity, efficiency and creativity can skyrocket. Neurodivergent people may work differently from other employees but that’s a good thing; approaching situations and tasks from a different, creative angle is an advantage.